Features >> Maternity wear that encourages breastfeeding

Maternity wear that encourages breastfeeding

Christine Shih (left) and Shirley Fan showing a range of imported outfits at their shop Maternity Wearhouz in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The duo recently ventured into designing their own
two-in-one maternity and nursing attire.


When Shirley Fan was pregnant with her first child, she found herself “growing” into her husband’s clothes.

“I had a hard time looking for something suitable to wear. The maternity clothes available were all too tent-like for me. So I started wearing my husband’s T-shirts and pants instead,” she says, adding that she had no choice but to choose comfort in place of style.

Nonetheless, the fashion faux pas came as a shock to her friends and family, not least her sister-in-law and clothes-shopping companion, Christine Shih.

“Shirley used to be a very fashionable lady – a clothes-shopping queen. When I first saw her in a men’s top, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Shih, 31.

You’ve heard it all before – how the lack of stylish maternity wear has driven women into looking for practical alternatives, some of which simply border on the outlandish. But for mothers like Fan, the worst was far from over, post-baby.

“I couldn’t fit into my old clothes. Nothing I saw in the shops made me feel good about myself. I just wanted to stay home all the time. I was also breastfeeding and it didn’t seem all that convenient to do so in public,” Fan, 35, recalls.

That was five years ago. Today, the mother-of-two has no qualms about breastfeeding her younger, eight-month-old child, Isabelle Tan, in a mall or at the park, ever since she discovered the wonders of well-designed two-in-one maternity and nursing wear.

In fact, she now wears her own designs from Maternity Wearhouz (maternitywearhouz.webs.com), a clothes depot that she operates with Shih at Tropicana Medical Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The outlet, which opened in 2008, started out carrying imported labels; only recently did the two owners venture out as self-taught designers.

The idea for Maternity Wearhouz came about when Shih realised that Fan was wasting the most part of her motherhood by spending it all at home.

“Women shouldn’t have to be afraid of facing the world after motherhood. After seeing what Shirley went through, I swore to myself that I would never fall into the same situation,” explains Shih, who has plans to start a family with her husband.

Still, Maternity Wearhouz is not all about fashion-forward mothers. The brand, in combining fashion with function, has found its way into the heart of a bigger cause: To encourage mothers to take up breastfeeding in the long run. And so together, Fan and Shih started a range of outfits that is fitted with discreet nursing access to help mothers deal with the initial challenges of breastfeeding a newborn.

According to Shih, the same pieces can also be worn pre-baby, due to the pliability of the 100% cotton materials used. They are priced from RM69 to RM300.

There are casual Polo tees, spaghetti-strap tops and ruched blouses; at a glance, one wouldn’t suspect that the garments are equipped with tiny slits that serve as ingenious access points to accommodate nursing mothers.

The ruched blouse, for instance, is tailored with double layers; the first layer hides the nursing openings in the second layer of fabric. To breastfeed, a mother only has to lift up the top layer, and not the entire hem of the blouse. Exposure is at a minimum – perfect for mothers who have garnered rude stares in their attempts to nurse in public.

“Convenience is an issue. A lot of mothers are simply giving up breastfeeding because they can’t find clothes that are discreet enough for the purpose,” Shih says.

Star support

For local model and actress Dynas Mokhtar, who had her first child, daughter Khyra Khalyssa Hafizy, in April 2010, she found it truly troublesome to breastfeed in public.

“There aren’t many good facilities available that help support nursing mothers,” says the 28-year-old who is moving into her fifth month of pregnancy with her second child.

She only stopped breastfeeding her first-born, now aged one year and 10 months, recently upon finding out that she was pregnant again. 

Dynas Mokhtar’s two-in-one maternity and nursing designs under her label DnA by Dynas include a selection of formal evening wear that is stylish yet comfy.

The nursing rooms encountered by Dynas, who hosted the TV3 programme Si Kecil Ku Chak! 2010 for young mothers and mothers-to-be, were always too small, or lumped together with a badly ventilated diaper-changing room.

“You wouldn’t want to feed your baby where there’s diaper stench all around, right? And being uncomfortable will affect the mother’s milk flow as well,” says the star known for her roles in the movies Cinta Kolesterol, Gerak Khas The Movie, I Know What You Did Last Raya and Impak Maksima, and TV series including the supernatural-themed Susuk and Di Bawah Ketiak Isteri. She currently hosts Adoi Mak Kahwinkan Aku, a new programme on TV2 about relationships and love.

Dynas’ experience as a breastfeeding mother inspired the enterprising celebrity to launch her own line of two-in-one maternity and nursing wear in May last year with the aim of helping women feel comfortable enough to breastfeed any time, anywhere.

Labelled under DnA by Dynas (DnA being the acronym for Dynas Nursing Attire), her creations are available at her shop, DnA Boutique (www.dna.com.my), at the Curve in Petaling Jaya. Retailing between RM50 and RM499, the designs include a selection of formal evening wear that exudes comfort in the midst of sophistication.

“You may not bring your baby to a dinner function but you’ll definitely have your (breast) pump with you. And since you’ve got to use the pump every three hours, it pays to wear something comfortable,” says Dynas who in 2010 did a series of photos depicting her breastfeeding her daughter (including in public) to promote her boutique.

Minimal exposure

Equally intent on quashing negative notions associated with breastfeeding in public are Sue Neoh and her sister Karen, the joint owners of Autumnz (autumnz.com), an online maternity and nursing wear boutique.

Having resided in Britain and Germany during her years working as an auditor and later as a Montessori teacher, Neoh, 35, says it was a common sight to see mothers breastfeeding in public spaces overseas.

Autumz wear by Sue Neoh and her sister: A long-sleeved tunic with neckline access for nursing (top), and a discreet poncho that gives breastfeeding mothers the option of wearing everyday clothes.

“Malaysians are more conservative. When I came back and had my first baby in 2006, I couldn’t find any nursing clothes that were designed to be worn outside of the home. I had to either order them online from Britain, or wear normal clothes and just find a place where I could pull up my shirt. I had to use my baby’s muslin cloth to cover my tummy. It was definitely very hard to breastfeed in public,” she relates.

Neoh persevered and found the experience to be extremely rewarding.

“It’s the best way to form an immediate bond with your baby,” says the mother of a five-year-old girl and a boy aged three. In 2009, Neoh and her sister founded Autumnz in hopes that their range of clothes would help encourage soon-to-be-mothers to take up breastfeeding.

One of Neoh’s designs is called a “nursing inner,” which transforms everyday clothes into nursing-friendly attire. The layered top (long-sleeved or sleeveless) provides coverage for the stomach and can be worn underneath a cardigan or paired off with jeans.

There is also a nursing poncho that mothers can invest in, as an alternative to purchasing a full set of nursing clothes. “The fabric that we use is not too transparent but it also doesn’t totally block out light. Through my experience, you can’t cover babies in complete darkness and expect them to feed comfortably,” Neoh shares.

None of the pieces are over RM70, as the businesswoman based in Kuala Lumpur wants her brand to reach out to as many mothers as possible.

“Price shouldn’t be the defining factor on whether breastfeeding is for you or not,” says Neoh, who started wearing her own designs when she had her second child in 2009.

“Investing in nursing clothes is still a question mark for a lot of mothers because they are concerned about their own ability to produce milk for the baby. I think it all depends on one’s determination – every mother should be able to breastfeed her own child. We just need more education on how to prepare ourselves for it,” Neoh adds encouragingly.

These are but three cases of Malaysian mothers who are not only promoting the benefits of breastfeeding but are helping others look cool and chic while doing it – in public!

Access assessed

Nursing wear comes with dozens of different access points to suit different individuals. Here’s a list of the most common designs:

Wrap style access
Accessed simply by pulling aside fabric at the top of the garment. Simple to use, as nursing access can be gained single-handedly.

Side access
The neckline layer is pulled aside to access the nursing openings in the sides of the garment.

Empire line access
The nursing openings are accessed by pulling up the top at the empire line, just under the bust. Clothes with this type of access are styled to look like a regular top.

Oversized armhole access
A nifty invention – the overlayer of the garment is pulled aside to access the nursing layer underneath at the front.

Pull down access
Known to be the simplest nursing access, it’s great for first-time mothers and night-time feeds when you are sleepy and need quick, fuss-free access. Simply pull aside the stretchy fabric of the garment.

Crossover access
Two overlapping bands conceal the breastfeeding openings beneath. Suitable for breastfeeding twins, as both sides can be accessed simultaneously.

Double layer access
Two layers sit on top of one another – pulling the uppermost layer upwards will give access to the nursing openings, whilst keeping your back, tummy and sides covered by the bottom nursing underlayer.

Modesty panel access
In place of slits is a panel of fabric which sits flat against the chest and can be lifted at either side to give access to the breast. With no “cutout” area underneath, this gives a very smooth line to the breastfeeding top.

Inner cammi access
A style that incorporates an inner camisole layer with nursing openings. Double layer nursing panel access The chest is covered by two layers of overlapping panels. One layer pulls down, whilst the other layer pulls up for nursing access.

Drop cup access
Often worn in place of a bra for support and function in one garment, these styles let you undo simple clasps, releasing the front panel to access the nursing openings in the layer beneath.

Vertical centre opening
To access the nursing openings in the underlayer, just pull aside the vertical opening in the front. – Source: bellamama.co.uk/nursingaccess.html